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Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by [Walter, Jess]
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Beautiful Ruins: A Novel Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 2,747 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Adriana Trigiani Reviews Beautiful Ruins

Adriana Trigiani

Beautiful Ruinsis a glorious read for book lovers. From the moment you pick up the novel, it conjures a world that you long to enter. The teal-blue Ligurian Sea laps against a jagged coastline filled with candy-colored houses and open windows. At first glance, you’re dying to get inside those houses and find out what’s going on.

You needn’t worry. Jess Walter has written a sumptuous epic about the real people who make art, spinning illusion for fun, profit, and meaning. There are screen actors, a novelist, and Pasquale, an innkeeper, who keeps his patrons fed and watered on homemade wine and dreams. Among all the shimmer and hope are the lost souls who long to create something, anything. And just as Jess Walter introduces us to these characters, he follows them for fifty years. The journey will delight and captivate you.

You will be crushed when the novelist, Alvis, tracks down a woman whom he believed saved him in his youth, only to take a long walk down a dark hallway into a room where everything he believes and all his hopes shatter in one exchange. Jess Walter can break your heart in one conversation.

If you love the ancient charms of the Italian coast on the Ligurian Sea, if you long for Edinburgh and its cold rain and distant hot sun, and if you love stories of the dream factory that is Hollywood, you will not be able to part from this book until you are finished reading it. Even then, for months afterward, you’ll keep it close so you can reread a passage here and there that moved you.

It’s all here, the illusion and reality, the joy and the shame of the creative life, of life itself. The ingenue Dee, the producer Michael, and the D-girl Claire take you into the world of making movies, the expectations and disappointments, and in an ingenious turn, the author pins the hem of the action with real Hollywood stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who are engaging in a drama of their own in Rome.

Jess Walter has quietly and expertly built a career over six novels that puts him at the forefront of great American writers. Beautiful Ruins is the emerald among the pearls.


"A novel shot in sparkly Technicolor. . . . reimagines history in a package so appealing we'd be idiots not to buy it."--Library Journal (starred review)

"Why mince words? Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece."--Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls

"A marvel, an absolute gem of a beach read that is both hilarious and heartbreaking."--Huffington Post

"A literary miracle."--Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"Beautiful Ruins is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart."--The Stranger

"His masterpiece . . . an interlocking, continent-hopping, decade-spanning novel with heart and pathos to burn, all big dreams, lost loves, deep longings and damn near perfect."--Salon

"It is a powerful and lush book."--Selman Blair, the New York Post

"A great getaway of a novel...Perfect for spring break."--People

"A literary miracle."--Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "Fresh Air"

""Beautiful Ruins" is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart."--"The Stranger"

"A great getaway of a novel."--"People"

""Beautiful Runs" is itself a showcase for Walter's outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. . .No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives. . ."--Nashville Scene

"Well-constructed...quirky and entertaining tale of greed, treachery, and love."--"Publishers Weekly"

"This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There's lights, there's camera, there's action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in "Beautiful Ruins", you're getting thrown out of the theater."--Daniel Handler, author of "Why We Broke Up" and creator of Lemony Snicket

"[N]othing less than brilliant, a tour de force that crosses decades, continents, and genres, to powerful and often hilarious effect....A masterful novel of love, loss, and hard-won hope that satisfies on every level."--Ben Fountain, author of "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

"Within a page-turner of a plot, these triumphantly vulnerable characters leap off the page to take up permanent residence in your inner life. The effect is so powerful that to be untouched by "Beautiful Ruins" might well be like having no inner life at all."--Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of "36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction"

"A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter's prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He's taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that's life-affirming but never saccharine."--"Kirkus Reviews" (starred review)

"Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win."--"Interview"

"Lyrical, heartbreaking, and funny . . . Walter closes the deal with such command that you begin to wonder why up till now he's not often been mentioned as one of the best novelists around. "Beautiful Ruins" might just correct that oversight."--"Kansas City Star"

"A monument to crazy love . . . Walter [is] a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor."--"New York Times"

"Expertly scratches the seasonal itch for both literary depth and dazzle."--"Entertainment Weekly"

"Beautiful . . . A shining, imaginative tale . . . "Beautiful Ruins" shows novelists how it is done."--"The Plain Dealer"

"His [Walter's] characters are long-suffering, prone to failure and sometimes at death's door. But the verve and enthusiasm of this novel, from its let's-go-everywhere structure to the comedy in the marrow of its sentences, are wholly life-affirming."--"Minneapolis Star Tribune"

"Entrancing novel...Walter's turns of phrase are as brilliant as his plot twists, making for a compelling, fun read."--"People"

"[A] high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. . . . [Walter's] mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel."--"New York Times Book Review"

"A beautiful narrative . . . This writer is a genius of the modern American moment."--"Philadelphia Inquirer"

"Walter is a very, very funny writer and can do Hollywood satire with the best of them. But this is also a novel with a live, beating heart, full of sympathy for its characters and agut wisdom...You'll want to explore these Ruins."--"Newsday"

"It is a powerful and lush book."--Selma Blair, the "New York Post"

"[An] enchanting novel. . . Sweeping effortlessly back and forth between Italy and current-day Hollywood, and between various modes of storytelling, Walters builds a world that won't soon let you go."--Paula McLain, author of "The Paris Wife"

"Combines satisfying, old-fashioned storytelling with a modern sensibility."--Becky Aikman

"A novel with pathos, piercing wit and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic. . . . Walter has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors."--Boston Globe

Product Details

  • File Size: 1213 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (June 12, 2012)
  • Publication Date: February 20, 2013
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006NZDO40
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,234 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This story is told in chapters that go back and forth in time, starting in 1962 in a little Italian coastal town named Porto Vergogna (Port Shame.) Here we are introduced to a young man named Pasquel who's family owns the only small hotel in the village, the name of which translates to The Hotel Adequate View. Pasquale has big plans to make his village competitive with the successful coastal communities nearby and attract more tourists. The only American tourist who has visited the hotel before is a man named Alvis Bender, who comes every year for two weeks to work on a book - a book for which he has only written one chapter.

But when a young beautiful actress named Dee Moray arrives to stay at The Hotel Adequate View, everything changes. As the book progresses we find out what happened to these characters over time and how their lives and the lives of so many others were changed as well.

The other main characters include Claire Silver, a young, impassioned but disillusioned development assistant for a man named Michael Deane, who is an older and successful and legendary film producer. We also meet a young man named Shane Wheeler who wants to make a pitch about a movie about the Donner Party. Add to the mix an incredibly amusing and odd cast of characters both from the past and present. And did I mention Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor?

I don't want to give away any more of the plot because it's such a joy to read this book to find out what happens next and how it all comes together. It's not just that this book is compelling and entertaining, it's also a mirror that reflects our culture and the way we think and live.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sometimes one clicks with a book, and other times...well, for me this was one of the other times. About half way through I realized that I really didn't care about the cast of a thousand characters, and was distracted by the fact that the locale shifted with every chapter -- one chapter is in Hollywood in the present and in next chapter one is back in Italy in 1962. For me, there were too many characters and too many storylines. Others may not have an issue with my issues, but those are the reasons I finally set the book aside. The book also shifts from present to past tense almost with each chapter, which seems to be more and more common in current literature to the point where some consider it a fad. Fortunately, Jess Walter did not overdo the use of present tense and it ceased to be a distraction for me.

I did like the character of Pasquale, and had the book been his story alone I would have found the book enchanting. The chapters set in Italy were in my opinion the best parts of the book (at least the book as far as I read it). The author has a good feel for the locale and I found myself skimming the sections set in Hollywood to get back to Italy. Richard Burton put in a cameo appearance, and it didn't do much to dispell his image as a heavy drinker, which is probably accurate (certainly it is the way I remember him as being depicted at the time). I suspect this book will find its proper audience -- the reviews so far have been quite glowing. The fact that it didn't appeal to one particular reader is not the fault of the author -- it is just a fact of life that not every book is going to appeal to everyone.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The "beautiful ruins" of this affecting story include not only its physical setting, in a tiny coastal village destined for extinction (Porto Vergogna or the Port of Shame), but also the larger than life characters, including a "real" Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who appear as supporting actors to the main story of the more ordinary cast: the arrestingly beautiful blonde starlet Dee Moray and the young innkeeper who falls for her, Pasquale Tursi, and many many other memorable characters, their children, their friends, their colleagues.

The novel moves back and forth in time between 1962 and a somewhat vaguely defined "recently." The juxtaposition made possible by this slippage in time serves to remind the reader that all things beautiful eventually become ruins and that many ruins (conversely) were once things of beauty. That double-focus is the source of much of the book's poignancy. The novel's many other, mostly youthful comic characters, associated with its second setting in contemporary Hollywood, do help to balance the book's almost unbearable sadness and lend it a sense of the future that keep it from tipping into tragedy. One character, the "dead-gazed" geriatric Michael Deane, miracle of plastic surgery, tells the haunting cautionary tale of what happens if one rejects the embrace of time.

The result is a beautifully composed, highly entertaining philosophical novel, tightly unified despite its wide-ranging plot. I think the point of the final (title) chapter, which attempts to wrap up all the loose ends, is that, despite the pleasure such storytelling brings, it is finally impossible to harmonize all the notes, to make public all the private losses and gains.
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